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The Virginian - Pilot (Norfolk, VA.)
Republican State Del. Michael J. Webert has a message for Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder: We'd love for your NFL team to move to the commonwealth ... as long as taxpayers don't shell out a dime.
Webert, who represents parts of three counties just west of Northern Virginia, introduced a bill Tuesday night that would prohibit the use of taxpayer money to fund a new stadium for the Redskins.
While the bill doesn't mention the Redskins by name, it would forbid the state and cities and counties from subsidizing the construction or operation of any stadium or other facilities used by a professional sports team, including offices and training facilities.
Snyder, who has a net worth of $2.3 billion, according to Fortune Magazine, has said publicly that he wants to be in a new stadium by 2027.
Webert was unavailable for comment Wednesday.
It could not be immediately determined from the bill's initial wording whether it would affect other arena or stadium efforts that have been discussed. Norfolk, for example, wants to renovate Scope, home of the Norfolk Admirals minor league hockey team.
Richmond wants to build a new arena, which presumably would host the city's existing indoor football league team, and a new baseball stadium for the Richmond Flying Squirrels Double-A baseball team.
Pro sports stadiums are described in the bill as "a venue that hosts two or more events or practices featuring professional sports teams in a calendar year."
A Republican familiar with the bill who asked not to be identified said it is generally aimed at major professional sports teams, not minor league sports, and expects that issue to be clarified in future versions of the bill.
Beginning on Jan. 1, 2019, public funding for stadiums would be prohibited, the bill states, unless "public funding is otherwise available to all development projects or business entities located in the locality."
The bill would also prohibit public funding for infrastructure improvements for a new pro sports stadium. Even if cities and counties don't directly subsidize the cost of a sports stadium, they often provide millions of dollars to upgrade water and sewer lines and roads around sports facilities.
Government can continue to do so, but only if it collects "reasonable fees" from the pro team, according to the bill.
The bill would not affect current agreements between cities and counties and professional sports teams, including the Norfolk Tides, which play at Harbor Park.
The Redskins play at FedEx Field in Landover, Md., but their lease expires in 2026. Snyder has said the team plans to have a new stadium in place in time for the following season, either in Maryland, Virginia or Washington.
Most NFL teams have received generous subsidies from taxpayers to build new stadiums and have sometimes moved when local government refused to ante up. The San Diego Chargers, for example, moved to Los Angeles before the 2017 season after taxpayers voted down a steep increase in hotel taxes that would have produced $1 billion for a new stadium.
Missouri taxpayers paid to build a $280 million dome in 1995 in St. Louis to attract the Rams from Los Angeles. But in spite of a pledge of $500 million from St. Louis and the state to build a new, $1 billion stadium, the Rams left St. Louis prior to this season and returned to LA.
The Rams departed years before debt on the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis was paid off. Missouri taxpayers will cough up $12 million per year until 2022 to pay off the debt on a stadium without a football team.
Political leaders and pro sports officials have long touted the economic benefits of building sports facilities, saying they create economic development and bring in new tax dollars. Critics of pro sports, including many economists, say the facilities generate little new revenue to a region.
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe has waged a public campaign to persuade the Redskins to move to Loudoun County near Dulles Airport. He said taxpayer dollars wouldn't be needed because development rights around the stadium would fund much of the cost.
Gov.-elect Ralph Northam told The Virginian-Pilot late last year that he opposed taxpayer subsidies for the Redskins, adding that such subsidies rarely provide the benefits promised.
Ofirah Yheskel, a spokeswoman for the Norfolk Democrat, said that as a policy, Northam is not commenting on bills until he has a chance to review them.
The Redskins say FedEx Field will be obsolete by 2027, but also want to move in part because of the suburban location. It takes more than an hour for parking lots to empty after games, and there is little for fans to do within a short drive of the stadium.
Maryland would like the Redskins to move to National Harbor, an urban development of offices, hotels, restaurants and residences within minutes of downtown Washington.
The Redskins have expressed interest in returning to the district, perhaps at the site of old RFK Stadium. However, city and federal officials have said they want the team to change its nickname, which they say is racially offensive, as a precondition to any deal. Snyder has adamantly refused to change the nickname.
McAuliffe has said the Redskins belong in Virginia because 66 percent of the team's season-ticket holders are from the Old Dominion and because all of the players live in Northern Virginia near the team's training facility. The Redskins also hold preseason training camp in Richmond.
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